“Quoth The Raven” – Black Bird (manga) – 4/10 Peeps

Mangaka: Kanoko Sakurakoji

Genre: Romance/Drama/Supernatural/Shoujo

Review Status: Incomplete (4 Volumes/19 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this is licensed in the US by Shoujo Beat.

Art: It’s standard. I liked the judicious use of toner, backgrounds, and really thought the tengu designs were interesting. But the art really doesn’t stand out in any way.

Summary: There is a world of myth and magic that intersects ours, and only a special few can see it. Misao Harada is one such person, and she wants nothing to do with magical realms. She just wants to have a normal high school life and maybe get a boyfriend. All that changes one day when Misao is attacked by a demon. Her childhood friend Kyo suddenly returns to save her and tend her cuts – with his tongue! It turns out Misao is the bride of prophecy, whose blood gives power to the demon clan who claims her. But most demons want to keep her power for themselves – by eating her! Now Misao is just trying to stay alive…and decide if she likes it when Kyo licks her wounds. (back cover of 1st volume)

Review: This is one of the Shojo Beat titles I hear thrown around a bit, so when the opportunity to check it out from the library came up, I took it with few expectations about what it was. I figured it might be a slightly smuttier version of Kieli, one of my favorite supernatural romances. I was a little off; Sure, this girl might be able to see spirits, but that’s about it!

Misao is just an average teen girl who happens to see spirits, and when she’s attacked one day, she’s rescued by a super-handsome guy that is deeply in love with her and wants to get into her pants.

Still with me?

So far, these four volumes have centered around how she’s the DESTINED ONE and sex. Not necessarily in that order, though, and not necessarily separately. The big deal is that if she has sex, then the clan of whomever manages to have bedded her will prosper. This is a big draw for Kyo (though apparently there’s some childhood friendship there that’s blossomed into love as well, but there’s a big mystery surrounding this). It’s also a big draw for a few other clans, so they’re completely willing to fight over her. Honestly, how it’s carried out is a major teen girl fantasy, and not unlike…I hate to say this… Twilight. It’s so full of near-sex and sexual tension it’s hard to believe they managed to squeeze anything else in.

Suffice it to say that there isn’t that much else here. Misao and Kyo are as standard and uninteresting as possible, and while I’m intrigued by some of the side characters (the brothers seem like awesome people and I’d love to have more of them!) we’re only treated to brief glimpses of their personalities, making them one-note characters. The story also assumes that knowing absolutely nothing about them, we’re supposed to adore them and understand they’re Misao’s New Best Friends. Even the bad guys are completely boring! This is as average as average can be, and definitely uses it to its full advantage.

Overall,  it’s a teenage girl’s ultimate romance story, mixed the angst of having sex for the first time with being the sexual fantasy of a really hot guy and adding some supernatural drama. I got over this stuff long ago. There’s so much sexual angst that it’s hard to see the character development. I can’t even mention the plot development because it’s all about the sex.

Recommended: 18+. It’s not hentai, but it comes darned close quite a few times. There are a number of highly sexualized scenes, where they are kissing half-naked and whatnot, but I suspect that when it gets to it the actual scene will be mostly stylized editing. I’d probably label it ‘softcore porn’.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Akagami no Shirayuki-hime (manga)

Bride of the Water God (manhwa)

Love Monster (manga)

“Easy As Pie” – Antique Bakery (anime) – 7/10 Peeps

Genre: Comedy/Drama/Shoujo/Shounen-ai(?)/Slice-of-Life

Review Status: Complete (12 Episodes/12 Episodes)

Licensed: Yes, this is licensed in the US by Nozomi.

Art/Animation: I can’t say much for the OP, because it’s carboard cut-outs against a dollhouse background, but the actual series looks quite good. It’s a more airy/sketchy look to it, rather along the lines of Honey and Clover, and in light pastels, though the backgrounds are often CG and not quite as nice-looking as the characters. You do get used to it, but it is disconcerting at first. The animation is very good. Since it’s a slice-of-life series, the budget is used to make things look nice, and it works.

Summary: A high school crush, a world-class pastry chef, a former middle-weight boxing champion… and a whole lot of cake!
Ono has come a long way since the agonizing day in high school when he confessed his love to handsome Tachibana. Now, some 14 years later Ono, a world-class pastry chef and gay playboy has it all. No man can resist Ono’s charms (or his cooking skills!) but he has just found a new position under a man named Tachibana. Can this be the only man who resisted his charms, and if so, will the man who once snubbed the “magically gay” Ono get his just deserts? And how in the heck did a former middleweight boxing champion wind up as Ono’s cake boy? (DigitalMangaPublishing)

Review: This has the cutest opening I’ve seen in a while. No, seriously, check it out!

It’s sweet and adorable (instead of looking cheap, like I had worried), and serves as a fantastic intro into a series that has the iffiest premise I’ve ever come across: A man who was kidnapped and forced to eat cake as a child ends up opening a bakery to find the man. It’s terribly strange, and if this wasn’t filled with handsome men baking delicious things, I might have turned this off right then and there. Thankfully, this wasn’t as ridiculous as it seemed to be, even though there are a number of moments that are… less than realistic.

This is mainly a character-driven story, and gives the impression that it’s shounen-ai off the first episode when Keiichiro ends up asking Yusuke whether he would work for him. Yusuke comes right out and says that Keiichiro used to bully him because he was gay and that he was madly in love with Keiichiro. Keiichiro has absolutely no interest in him however, but Yusuke gives into the pleas because it gives him a chance to show off his baking skills. And because he’s such a player that he can’t work anywhere else. But the staff isn’t complete yet! Chikage, a bodyguard that’s a touch slow, ends up becoming a waiter  (and love interest of Yusuke, but that’s minor). And the cast is rounded out by Eiji, a young man that desperately wants to make sweets and ends up becoming Yusuke’s apprentice.

The majority of this show is really the everyday happenings around the bakery, from developing a new cake, to being featured on televisiton, to sending Eiji away to learn more. And these things really are a lot of fun to see. The parts where it stumbles are on Yusuke’s personal life, because it’s so absolutely full of drama that it’s ridiculous. I suppose there’s something to be said about depicting how terrible abusive relationships are, but it’s still very out of place with the rest of the show. I’m also not fond of the kidnapper sotryline. It really highlights how silly the premise is overall. But… there are parts of it that really made my day, like tracking down people meant delivering cakes in ridiculous costumes as well as being asked to do truly difficult pastries. So while it was far from perfect, at least the kidnapper arc had a number of redeeming things.

For 11 episodes, though, it was too much time wasted and a little too much drama for what really should mostly have been an upbeat show.

Overall, it was fun and a decent series. Rate higher if you’re really fond of drama involving handsome men.

Recommended: 18+. Implied sex between two men, along with some partial nudity. There’s a series of murders of little boys happening (we never see them die, but it’s impied offscreen). Someone gets stabbed, and you do see some blood.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Ristorante Paradiso (anime)

Bartender (anime or manga)

Sommelière (manga)

“Simply Touching” – The Magic Touch (manga) – 6/10

Mangaka: Izumi Tsubaki

Genre: Romance/Comedy/Shoujo/School

Review Status: Incomplete (4 Volumes/9 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this is licensed by Shoujo Beat Manga.

Art: Typical shoujo art. It could be a template for other shoujo.

Summary: The star of her high school’s Massage Research Society club, Chiaki Togu is otherwise a normal, quiet girl until she falls in love at first sight with a gorgeous back – a back that happens to belong to Yosuke, the hottest guy at her school! Unfortunately, Chiaki’s attraction to Yosuke is thwarted by her own insecurity and the scheming of other girls – especially her twin sister Sayaka! Although Yosuke seems to be out of Chiaki’s league, she would do anything to give him a massage. The two eventually strike up a deal in which she will be allowed to touch his back…if she can make him fall in love with her! (back cover of 1st volume).

Review: This manga has by far and large the most unique premise I’ve come across in manga; A romance that happens because of  massage. And I don’t mean any massage parlor, either – it’s a school club dedicated to the art, and a girl who’s obsessed with it because it’s the only skill she has. Chiaki wants nothing more than to be a great masseuse, so that attracts her to the most irritated, painful back she’s ever seen.

It’s amazing how such a unique and interesting plot can fall so hard into all the tropes of shoujo ever. Chiaki is very much a typical heroine, torn over her feelings towards Yosuke and determined to do her best no matter what. The issue is that she’s torn over her feelings – she clearly was attracted to the prospect of massaging him from the beginning, and we the readers are explicitly shown that. So why all the drama about whether she had actually fallen in love with the person it belonged to first? It simply didn’t happen. Yosuke is a little different from the typical love interest by being angry and irritable. He’s not into other girls. Or, heck, other people. The issue comes in when he’s attracted to Chiaki for her charm…which is cheesy to begin with.

A lot more could have been done with that if they hadn’t decided to ignore the family dynamics and relationships of these two. The first volume introduces Chiaki’s twin sister who’s been busy making Chiaki’s life miserable, ruining her good name, and it’s resolved with barely any issue in that same volume. That same volume also brings up an interesting relationship dynamic between Yosuke and his brother, and that brother with Chiaki’s sister. All the mistaken identity issues just wrapped up for the sake of introducing club activities! Bah.

It wasn’t a total loss, though. I thought the club activities and trickery were pretty funny – I’ve never seen so much involvement from a club president in a manga before, and he’s crazy enough to make me forgive a lot in this series. The only goal is to learn massage and if that means entering an underground massage tournament, then so be it! Summer parties? Massage! Sleepovers? Massage! There is no rest for these kids. (wat) I’m also rather fond of the opponents introduced here. It provides an interesting mash-up of quirks and personalities, and I really enjoyed how it worked with that.

Overall, it’s cute, but a fairly typical shoujo romance. If you have a particular interest in massage then it might be a little more entertaining, but other than that nothing special.

Recommended: 12+. There is some innuendo in some later volumes, especially after Chiaki mistakes a comment about her being ‘small’ as about her breasts. This is discussed.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Kitchen Princess (manga)

“Crime And Genius Detectives” – Young Miss Holmes (manga) – 8/10 Desks

Mangaka: Kaoru Shintani

Genre: Mystery/Historical/Shoujo

Review Status: Incomplete (2 Volumes/7 volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this series is licensed in the US.

Art: The character designs look like a throwback to the 90’s, but with less detail in the backgrounds and simpler line art. I’m fond of how the girls look, but the men? They just look strange and emaciated. It has a strange effect on the overall appearance. Overall I’m okay with it, but it could be better.

Summary: Christie Holmes is a prodigy. At ten years old, she’s as familiar with the sciences and classics as any older student at Cambridge or Oxford. And her fascility with logic is reminiscent of her uncle., the eminent Sherlock Holmes himself. So, what’s a brilliant yhoung girl to do when her parents are away in India, leaving her behind in the care of maids and servants? Why, solve mysteries, of course. Along with her giant hound Nelson, Christie’s implacable curiosity leads her from one dangerous adventure to another, often joining forces with her Uncle Sherlock and Doctor Watson on their famed investigations. Christie may look pint-sized, bet her clever mind is never to be underestimated! (back cover of first volume)

Review: Young Miss Holmes is a very interesting title. It’s one of the critic’s darlings, a new manga that is just as much fanfiction as it is a geniune story in it’s own right. Why fanfiction? Well, this takes a character that never existed (several, really, when accounting for the fact that to make Christie the niece of Sherlock, the give Sherlock a younger sister) and inserts her into a well-established story, including inserting her into a few of Holmes’ actual cases! This might tick off original fans of the Holmes series, but if you can handle a little bit of creative license then this is a decently entertaining series.

I really don’t think the series hit its stride until the third case she was on. The first had virtually no detective work on Christie’s part; She was really only in the story for the ride as her uncle spouted off what happened and how they were going to recover the jewel. One of my peeves about manga is that I much prefer the show-don’t-tell approach for stories since this is a visual medium. If I want to read a book, I’ll read a book. It’s also the least exciting or interesting mystery of them all, with Christie merely sitting in a chair to fool the criminal. It just wasn’t a good start at all.

The second case was better than that – putting her into the infamous Redheaded League case – and the third was even better than that! Not only did we start getting a solid look into Christie’s life, but the case is far more interesting and better set-up. It felt far more like aHolmes story, with an actual investigation and look at the facts and scene of the crime. And the revelation is very similar to how the Homes stories are! I was very impressed with the ingeniuty the mangaka showed with it. Not only that, but it really started to showcase Christie as her own character and not just a side commentator. or a brat shoehorned in just for the heck of it. She’s looking for approval from an uncle that she admires more than anyone else in the world, and is dealing with a case of absentee parentism, which wasn’t that unusual back in the day (wow, an actual historical reason to get the parents out of the picture instead of just having them gone! So great!). In their place is a bevy of servants that need to reign in a precocious girl that could outsmart them all in a heartbeat. One woman who’s sent in as her tutor has to find ingenius ways of teaching her social niceties while her charge dives headfirst into soling mysteries. I also love the two maidservants that are Christie’s main… well, lackeys, for lack fo a better word. One is a down-home girl that can weild a whip but is less than refined, while the other is a fairly religious and proper maidservant… that isn’t afriad to whip out a gun if Christie is in any danger. They provide a fairly standard but amusing duo and comedic relief to the series.

As fun as the story got in the third case, the standards fell just a little more in the 4th. Unfortunately, this was a crossover with the manga Dance in the Vampire Bund, which means that this mystery had a geniunely supernatural element to it which I wasn’t ecstatic about. I thought the mystery and characters involved were just fascinating – seeing Christie inadvertantly make a friend was so adorable! – but since this is supposed to be Sherlock Holmes, I could have done without this extra element to attract those of the other series. Knowing the content of the other series, I also don’t feel compelled to read it, either. Whatever my feelings on this are, though, it was still a far sight better than the initial two chapters, so I feel that this will continue to be a good read in later volumes.

Overall, it seems to be off to a rocky start, but since it’s getting better and better as the story goes on I’m eagerly awaiting the next installment.

Recommended: 10+. If you think your kid can handle Muder, She Wrote, then they can handle the content in here. There are two scenes of dead bodies: you don’t get close-ups on them or the wounds. you just see enough blood to show that they’re dead.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Sherlock Hound (anime)

“A Different Type Of Princess” – Kitchen Princess (manga) – 7/10 Pencils

Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity.  ~Voltaire

Mangaka: Natsume Ando, Miyuki Kobayashi

Genre: Shoujo/Romance/Drama/Comedy/School

Review Status: Complete (10 Volumes/10 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this is licensed in the US by Del Ray

Art: Pretty typical shoujo, but it’s not half-bad on the food- everything looks absolutely scrumtious!

Summary: Najika is a great cook and likes to make meals for the people she loves. But something is missing from her life. When she was a child, she met a boy who touched her heart–and now Najika is determined to find him. The only clue she has is a silver spoon that leads her to the prestigious Seika Academy. Attending Seika will be a challenge. Every kid at the school has a special talent, and the girls in Najika’s class think she doesn’t deserve to be there. But Sora and Daichi, two popular brothers who barely speak to each other, recognize Najika’s cooking for what it is–magical. Is either boy Najika’s mysterious prince? (Source: Amazon)

Review: Kitchen Princess plays itself off as a shoujo that attempts to break ut of the mold a number of times. I have to say, overall I was pretty impressed with how it didn’t follow the traditional formula in a number of places, from the girl coming into the story as a fantastic cook already. The only thing she needs to work on is refining her skills a bit- a far cry from most heroines being absolute klutzes and needing to work hard to get a foot in the door for what they want to do! Entering the academy, Najika discovers two bys that could be her Flan Prince, and so the romance begins, and immediately begins to deviate from the predictable formula of her falling in love with the bad boy of the two. Yes, I had it called from the beginning, and I was heartily surprised at how the plot drove Najika to Sora, the sweet, responsible brother that takes charge of things and supports her in everything she does.

And boy, does she have her work cut out for her; Everyone has it in to shut her down and kick her out for not playing by the rules and winning the prestigous competitions they expected her to! Even if she’s blessed with perfect taste, able to tell everything exactly about what went into a dish and how it was cooked, that doesn’t mean that she’s going to have it easy when dealing wtih the exacting standards of judges or the director of the school when he sees her disappointing results and her rebellion against school rules. He’s willing to use everything at his disposal to get her to step down, usually by petty and semi-cartoon-villanous means. Hiring another student to take her down is an interesting idea, even if it backfires completely. It was the threat he makes towards her home and the people in it that caught my attention – extortion of the worst means, and more serious than most threats.

Most of this comes about from one of the most unexpected plot twists I’ve seen in a shoujo *ever*. No, seriously, it was both the highlight of the manga and the most depressing point of it. I was astounded and touched by the thought that went into this and the aftereffects it had on the characters. At the same time, it was the point where the mangaka decided it had strayed too far from the shoujo mold and pounded it back with a disappointing ferocity. The good news is that while the romance was now between two charactrers who matured quite a bit from their previous selves, it still wasn’t unexpected; that silly spoon really was overused for all of this, and it was refreshing when I thought at some point it wouldn’t matter all that much.

But as they try to figure out their feelings for each other in the wake of their loss, Najika faces pressing issues on the homefront, and with more competitions coming up, isn’t up to par. While she doesn’t end up at the competition of her dreams by the end of the series (another thing that was a nice change, having to still work hard for her goals), she still has people supporting her and a path to go down that’s pretty clear of obstacles. I have to say, it was a cherry on top to have it end in a way that made it stick out in my mind from some other series I’ve read.

On a personal note to the series, I really adored some of the recipes that came up in here – the back pages are filled with ones that were featured in the series! I was mightily impressed with the ones they chose to include, and a number were very delicious. A lot of the sentiments expressed about it being lovely and brightening a day echoed how I felt about them. Yum!

Overall, while it’s not the most original shoujo out there, it still managed to surprise me a number of times, and was still fun to read.

Recommended: 10+. There is a death scene, where one boy is hit by a car. you see some blood and his body lying on the ground. One of the girls suffers from an eating disorder (recovers).  A boy sees Najiuka’s panties when she is climbing a tree. Najika’s dress rips, but she’s covered by someone’s coat. There are two or three kisses.

Other Series You Might Enjoy:

Mixed Vegetables (manga)

Bambino (manga)

Yakitatte!! Japan (anime)

Yumeiro Pâtissière (anime)

“The Secret Code” – Codename: Sailor V (manga) – 8/10 Pencils

Mangaka: Naoko Takeuchi

Genre: Mahou Shoujo/ Shoujo/Action/Comedy/Romance

Review Status: Complete (2 Volumes/2 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed by Kodansha in the US.

Art: It’s a little rough around the edges, with Artemis’ design looking stranger than not, but still very lovely and detailed with the character designs.

Summary: Like Sailor Moon, Minako Aino is a normal 13-year-old schoolgirl until a fateful day when a white cat introduces himself to her and tells her she has the power to transform into the hero, Sailor V. Using a magic pen to transform, Sailor V fights the evil agents of the Dark Agency as she strives to protect the earth. (Randomhouse.com)

Review: The prequel to the Sailor Moon series, Codename: Sailor V introduces Sailor Venus, the first Sailor Scout to realize who she was and why she was fighting. Chronologically, this makes sense, and it’s fascinating to see the exploits of one of the Sailor Scouts before she joins up with the others. Having the focus on a different girl gives an interesting perspective to the ‘start’ of the entire fight against the Dark Agency, with a lower level of baddies and some hilarious ways to try and get energy from humans. I was more often than not amused by their antics as they tried (and were foiled) by Sailor V.

There were numerous interesting plans, from getting them to adore idols, to fattening them up and then draining them. Some plans were rather ingenious, if silly, and it was amusing to see how they were carried off and how Sailor V nearly got caught in them herself–she’s almost as much of a selfish ditz as Usagi is! She and Artemis have a great dynamic going. She’s harder on him than Usagi is with Luna, and more often than not Artemis ends up the one feeling down about Minako’s comments and threats. Minako is punished for some of her shenanigans and behaviour, and it’s interesting to see their dynamic change when that happens. They are a bit abrasive with each other, but always know when to set aside the drama and work together.

The brief glimpses and foreshadowing for the rest of the series is pretty neat, and I definitely looked forward to seeing hints of who she would be meeting in any given chapter. She also got a love interest to boot! It’s a shame that some of these things do not come back in the later series, because it would have been a lot of fun to see these play out. Even so, the idea that they have a life outside of the Scouts is nice.

Overall, while there isn’t much meat to the story, and it’s fairly fluff-filled, this is a good intro to the Sailor Moon series.

Recommended: 8+. There’s the typical monsters disintegrating or disappearing into dust, and there’s nothing particularly objectionable about any of the stories.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Sailor Moon (anime or manga)

Wedding Peach (anime)

“A Touch Of Luck” – Crescent Moon (manga) – 7/10 Pencils

“Three things cannot be hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.” ~Buddha

Mangaka: Haruko Iida

Genre: Action/Comedy/Fantasy/Romance/Shoujo

Review Status: Compete (6 Volume/6 Volumes)

Licensed: This title was formerly licensed by Tokyopop, and currently is unlicensed.

Art: Pretty typical for a shoujo- great detail on the people and clothing, virtually non-existant backgrounds. Thankfully, places that need detail get some and can look pretty nice. It’s nothing special, though.

Summary: Mahiru Shiraishi has an uncanny ability to bring good luck to everyone she touches – except herself. She’s constantly haunted by a recurring nightmare that ushers her to a dreamworld. There, she encounters a tribe of demons – a werewolf, vampire, fox, and a tengu – called the Lunar Race. Destiny calls when they need her help to recover their source of power, the stolen “Teardrops of the Moon.” In this fantasy adventure, Mahiru must battle the rage between the human race and the Lunar Race, whose powers are awakened by the dark side of the moon… (back cover of first volume)

Review: The summary is a very accurate telling of the plot. Mahiru happens to be a descendant of a princess, that seemed to have betrayed the Lunar Race and helped them to their doom, but now they need her powers to try and find a way to save themselves. This has some of the typical shoujo trappings you’d expect from it, like bishies (oh, the bishies!), and a romance sub-plot between the main girl and the guy. The plot? Fairly standard for a mahou shoujo.

At the same time, this builds the story well, making the characters likeable and fun to read about. The plot was kept at a quick pace, going from adventure to adventure, but still leaving a bit of room for character growth. The problem, as per usual with such a large cast in such a short amount of space, is that these characters definitely have unique personalities and quirks (even within shoujo manga, they stand out more than usual!), but aren’t really as developed as I want them to be. They have a lot of interesting background, and you get bits and pieces of what made them who they are. Mahiru is an incredibly likeable, average girl with a quirk. There are little idiosycraties in her personality that make her more of a realistic character than most in shoujo, which I appreciated. Unfortunately, it’s her love interest who falls flat, the stereotypical angry guy that a decent amount of shoujo heroines fall for. His reasons for being angry, while understandable, are standard for the genre and left me less than impressed. Their ‘enemy’, the prince, who is only in the story for about two volumes, manages to be an understandable character in why he persecutes and believes what he does about humans and more believable in his role because of his age and the pressures he is under.

I can only speak highly if the rest of the cast, who are fascinating, funny, and intriguing all in turn. And yes, I do happen to ship the main with them because they’re far more likeable and interesting than the one she does end up with. There’s an issue when the supporting cast is more interesting that the leads!

 Even more fascinating than the characters is the world that they are born into. It’s clear that the mangaka put some thought into the heirarchy and social system of it, and that made the glimpses into its workings tatalizing! I can’t take off points for that, though- most of what was shown was perfectly suitable for the story that it was telling. But it’s the little details that made this manga a lovely gem.

Overall, while the plot and tropes may have been standard, I was still highly impresssed with the details of the world and quirks of the characters, which made this a fun manga to read on a dreary day.;

Recommended: 9+. This does have a dramatic ‘death’ scene, but he’s brought back to life. There is some blood and injury, but nothing that they don’t heal from by the next day. A character dies off-page.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Vampire Game (manga)

Fruits Basket (manga)

Black Bird (manga)

Card Captor Sakura (anime)

“Standing Out” – High School Debut (manga) – 6/10 Sunbeams

Our hearts are drunk with a beauty our eyes could never see. ~George W. Russell

Mangaka: Kazune Kawahara

Genre: Romance/Comedy/Slice-of-Life/School/Shoujo

Review Status: Complete (13 Volumes/13 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed by Viz Media (Shoujo Beat) in the US.

Art: Typical shoujo art. There’s really nothing special or distinctive about this style.

Summary: Back in junior high, Haruna Nagashima was only interested in two things: softball and manga. Now that she’s starting high school, Haruna’s focus has changed – she wants to snag a boyfriend and have the romance of her dreams!

After blindly following the advice of fashion magazines and the like, Haruna fails to win the eye of any guy. Convinced that a coach is needed (just like when she trained for softball), she recruits cure upperclassman Yoh Komiyama to instruct her on how to make herself more appeaing. Yoh agrees, with one catch: Haruna had better not fall for him! (back cover of 1st volume)

Review: High School Debut is one of the more popular shoujo manga at the moment, and in some ways I can see why. It is relatively clean, it has some funny moments, and there is some interesting character growth. Oh, and the kids don’t mess around for too long trying to figure out their feelings- they’re together by the middle of the series, and the rest focuses on them trying to keep their relationship together.

The problem is, it fails to really stand out from the crowd. Every part of this I’ve seen before. The plot is the description of half the romantic comedies out there, in movies, in tv, even in books – She’s All That, Miss Congeniality, Princess Diaries… Some of them are better than others, but it’s a scenario seen a dozen times before. This immediately makes me start looking for something to differentiate it from the pack. If you can tell from my rating, it really doesn’t succeed at it.

Something that would have made this a whole lot better is if it had focused on the boyfriend instead of the girlfriend. She’s an obliviously painfully stereotypical shoujo heroine: clueless, a bit klutzy for all of her skills at baseball, and not really able to fit in with the crowd. Considering how much shoujo manga she’s read, it would have been really appreciated if she’d been more genre-savvy, avoiding some of the absolutely idiotic situations she gets herself into. She also manages to evolve into a bit of a Mary-Sue, having a mini-harem of gorgeous guys following her around even when she hasn’t done anything in particular to deserve that attention except for ‘just having something about her’ (highly likely it’s the stench of stupidity, but I can only make a supposition). They at least gave her some kick-butt skills at baseball, but it’s still just not enough to make up for a lack of a distinctive personality. Or any personality, actually. At least the boyfriend showed some growth, starting out as the stereotypical cold, uncaring dude, but really coming out of his shell in surprising ways. Probably a bit too easily, since things that he would be absolutely embarassed to do he does in a day or so after his gf asks him. Since he’s not an extroverted, easygoing guy – really quite the opposite – this makes it a little suspicious that it’s there just to get ‘awwws’ and sighs. It’s hard to see the romance actually happen, since one day he doesn’t care and the next he does. There’s really no growth there, and that makes it a really disappointing relationship.

Thinking on it, the main couple were really overshadowed by the side characters – never a good sign for any manga. I was far more interested by the drama going on in their lives that I ever could have been by the mains, since they all had really intriguing personalities. The boyfriend’s sister was a lot more interesting than thegirlfriend, needing attention but going about all the wrong ways to get it. Unfortunately, that was ended very abruptly and rather… well, conveniently, actually. However, she had a lot more gonig for her and her bratty but rather genuine personality made her intriguing. Then there was the boyfriend’s best friend, who was a ‘people watcher’ and really subversive in trying to win over the girlfriend. I was shocked, really, but he has some qualities that would make an excelent Byronic Hero, make him out of the ordinary that the boyfriend tends to be.

To top it off, they choose to tell it in some really obvious arcs – the ‘sister must deal’ arc which was completely foreshadowed in her behaviour and was solved very easily with no issues. The ‘ex girlfriend’ arc, which again could be seen coming from the very beginning. The ‘jealousy’ arc, that was gonna come around the *moment* that the guys started falling for her. And, of course, the ‘intimacy’ arc, which comes around in virtually every shoujo, where they wonder about actually having sex and whether they should wait or not. None of these were a surprise, and were pretty stereotypically dealt with; I’ve seen these pulled the same way in a dozen other shoujo, and it is really getting stale.

Between average story arcs and an average shoujo couple, there really wasn’t much to offer except some phenominal side characters that pulled it up to *just* above average.

Overall, it’s fine if you like shoujo, but it’s nothing special – quite the opposite, in fact.

Recommended: 15+. He saves her from being taken in by a guy that just wants to ‘have fun with her’, and they do mention sex a few times – one arc actually deals with them going out and the sexual tension that occurs, though nothing sexual happens.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Lovely Complex (manga or anime)

Dengeki Daisy (manga)

Kimi ni Todoke (anime or manga)

Otomen (manga)

“Kiss And Tell” – Kill Me, Kiss Me (manwha) – 8/10 Sunbeams

Life is tough. Love is tougher. Heart breaks are the toughest. ~Anonymous

Mangaka: Lee Young You

Genre: Romance/Action/Comedy/Gender-bender/School/Shoujo

Review Status: Complete (5 Volumes/5 volumes)

Licensed: Formerly licensed by Tokyopop, currently unlicensed

Art: For the most part, this has pretty generic character designs, though the mangaka took enough care to make each character easily recognizeable with very different facial features and hair. It has very nice detail on the clothing as well, showing a wide variety of styles. There are a few cases where the art goes sketch-like, looking like it was drawn with a crayon and very little care, and that can be very annoying.

Summary: When Tae Im finds out that her favorite idol star is currently attending the same school as her identical cousin Jung-Woo Im, she convinces her kin to switch places – she will dress as him, attend his all-boys school, and try to get close to her lover boy; he will dress as her, attend her all-girls school and revel in its sea of babes. Flawless? Well, with the bullies, brats and bishounen around, everything can go wrong. (back cover of 1st voume)

Review: The summary is really pretty misleading. The first volume is definitely as stated, with Tae discovering that her idol isn’t all that he appears to be, and finding love in an unexpected place (I heart this author for breaking tropes and traditions with this thing!). Her adventures are pretty typical for a high school romcom, with the boys thinking they might be gay and she wondering if they aren’t gay as well, what with their attraction to her! She ends up falling for a pretty tough gang member, though, with a heart of gold and the desire to protect Korea. It’s all pretty cute. At the same time, the main characters here become completely irrelevant in the next four volumes, so if you thought it would be further adventures of Tae… no.

It instead switches focus to Tae’s cousin, or rather a girl who’s in love with him after protecting him from some girls in a gang. She becomes attatched from a mix of things – worry that he’s going to out her as a fighter when she’s been trying to bury her past with that, but because he’s also got a pretty face and brings out her protective instinct. Too bad she gets caught up with another gang, one who’s leader sets his sight on her! The other four volumes really deal with that relationship, the dynamics between Que-Min and Ghoon-Hahm, with Tae’s cousin as a rather important side character. Que-Min and Ghoon-Hahm have a very interesting chemistry between them, with her attempting to hod the fort on her personality, but him knowing it – and being a gangster himself, that means that she’s worrying over him, having to beat up her own bullies, and dealing with how their lives drag Jung-Woo into danger.

Jung-Woo, unfortunately, makes a very lackluster love interest. He’s pretty emotionless, clueless, and…. boring. I much preferred Ghoon-Hahm, who just comes alive with character. He’s been crushing on Que-Min since kindergarten, when he picked fights with her just to get her attention. And his fighting spirit never let up, getting together a gang of his own (following in the footsteps of his father) which has a really diverse bunch of personalities. Of course, things aren’t just bad with the other gangs trying to move in and take revenge on Ghoon-Hahm, there’s also troubles on the relationship front! I’m really glad that the spoiled girl who wanted to make it a love triangle – and failed massively! – ended up getting pushed off on Jun-Woo. She’s was an unbearably one-dimentinal character, an absolute brat, and getting with the other character that made me pull out my hair ended up being a great blessing.

For all that annoyance, I was still really pleased with how the relationship between Ghoon-Hahm and Que-Min turned out. She made for an engaging heroine, an atypical character thrown into a storyline that also wasn’t quite the normal shoujo. And the relationship deveopment seemed pretty solid, to boot. Except for some instances of some almost-sexist overprotection when he things Que-Min and Jung-Woo are getting too close, this struck a lot of right chords for me to enjoy it.

Overall, it’s a decently done story about tough guys and girls in love.

Recommended: 16+. There are a few fights where you see some blood, and how bad the injuries are happen to be mentioned in passing. What drives my rating up is how often slurs for homosexuals are used (along with some homophobia by some of the side characters) and some slurs for women as well.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Boy of the Female Wolf (magna)

He Dedicated To Roses (manhwa)

Oresama Teacher (manga)

Yankee-kun to Megane-chan (manga)

“I’m Getting Bigger All The Time” – Marvelous Melmo (manga) – 7/10 Atoms

When I grow up I want to be a little boy. ~Joseph Heller

Mangaka: Osamu Tezuka

Genre: Comedy/Kids/Shoujo

Review Status: Complete (1 Volume/1 Volume)

Licensed: No, this manga is not icensed in the US

Art: Typical Tezuka, but due to this being one of his more lighthearted series, there’s no dramatic shading, and the character designs all stay fairly cartoonish.

Summary: Melmo’s mother dies in a traffic accident, leaving young Melmo and her younger brother Totoo. Anxious Melmo’s mother in heaven asks God to prepare some magical candies, and hands them to Melmo. There are two kinds: Melmo can grow 10 years older to become any sort of adult she wishes by eating a blue candy. By eating a red one, she can become 10 years younger. Using these miracle candies, Melmo disguises herself as a nurse, schoolteacher, policewoman, and overcomes troubles together with her brother, Totoo. (M-U)

Review: This is definitely one of the most innocuous manga I’ve come across from Tezuka. Here, we follow Melmo as she takes care of her brother and solves problems by using the magical candy that her mother brought her from heaven. This is very much your typical children’s storyline – don’t most kids wish they could grow up and bypass all those rules that adults have, or be able to get revenge on the people that tease them?

Melmo has all sorts of adventures using the candy, from saving a swan that’s been caught in the city by pollution, to winning a dance contest over some teasers, to getting an aunt that wanted the candy for herself to leave. It’s all very innocent, harmless stuff. This is also very episodic in nature, so there’s no overarching plot to worry about – the only part that even vaguely connects to Melmo’s mom giving the candy is in a later story, when two angels (a frog and a squirrel) are sent down to make sure that Melmo uses the candy more wisely.

Overall, for a kid’s manga it’s pretty nice, but nothing that special.

Recommended: 6+. Melmo’s mom gets hit by a car off-screen – you just see the car coming towards her and then she’s in heaven. You do see a one-panel glimpse of bare bum when she grows back into a child, when she’s learning to use the candy. And in one scene, she notes that she forgot to imagine her clothes bigger (they are too small, but only in having made the skirt a mini).

Other titles you might enjoy:

Haven’t found any quite like this.

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